Building a home theater will undoubtedly be a stressful task, and getting everything working in harmony so you get the best viewing experience is even harder.
You’re probably wondering whether you need a subwoofer for home theaters, and to be honest, I was surprised by the answer too. I always thought you only needed standard speakers to get an immersive experience.
You always see a subwoofer in the most popular surround sound setups, such as the 5.1, and the 7.1. You will even see them with soundbars, so a subwoofer must be a crucial component right?
Indeed it is, you do need a subwoofer for your home theater setup, this is because your normal speakers cannot possibly do everything audio-wise. You need a subwoofer to handle those lower frequencies.
What Is A Home Theater
A home theater is an audio and video setup created in the comfort of your own home. Anyone can build a home theater if they have the patience and enough space to house the components they want.
Home theaters are typically used to consume movies and maybe music, and these forms of media are heavily dependent on how capable your audio system is.
A home theater audio system can be configured in many ways such as a 5.1 or a 7.1 audio system. But we’re mainly going to be focusing on the 1 which represents a subwoofer.
Now subwoofers aren’t required, most decent speakers will come with the ability to play low-frequency noises thanks to their built-in woofers. However, for the best experience possible, you will require a dedicated subwoofer.
What Is A Subwoofer?
Subwoofers are pretty much loudspeakers, but they are very different from your normal speakers (floorstanding and bookshelf speakers). This is because subwoofers focus only in one frequency range, and that’s bass.
Subwoofers will produce sounds in the frequency range around 60-250 Hz, this is also known as bass. Some subwoofers can produce sounds much lower in the sub-bass realm (20 – 250 Hz).
Subwoofers are often seen as an optional option among non-serious audiophiles, but if you’re more serious, you will see a subwoofer as a crucial component to get the most out of your audio systems.
Subwoofers are seen as optional because of their dependence on normal speakers. Your subwoofer won’t be much use on its own, however, normal speakers can work perfectly fine on their own.
Subwoofers are generally seen as the largest speakers, and they need a really strong enclosure due to the amount of power these speakers possess. Subwoofers are generally around 8-20 inches in size. The larger, the better for lower frequencies.
Subwoofers are usually connected directly to an amplifier or a receiver using an LFE cable. The receiver or amp will send the low-frequency signals to the subwoofer.
What Is The Subwoofer’s Role In A Home Theater?
The subwoofer’s role in a home theater is to improve upon an already existing audio system. The audio system can work perfectly fine without a subwoofer, but the audio quality will be lacklustre due to there being no specialized device for low-frequency sounds.
So when you equip your sound system with a subwoofer, three things will happen. The first thing is that your sound system will greatly be improved from an audio perspective.
Secondly, your main speakers can focus more on the higher-frequency noises meaning there’s less stress on your main speakers. This means there will be less distortion due to your main speakers trying to reproduce low frequencies.
Lastly, due to the subwoofers intensity to produce high powered low frequency sound waves, bass will actually be felt more than heard. This means every scene will be significantly more immersive turning you from a passive listener to an active listener.
The vibrations will travel throughout the whole room, vibrating furniture like your sofa making high-end action movies seem extremely realistic. If you’ve ever used a subwoofer, watching movies without them usually feels boring and one-dimensional.
How To Get The Most Out Of My Subwoofer?
You can’t just hook your subwoofer up to your receiver and expect it to work perfectly or to its highest potential. The amount of bass your subwoofer can output is highly dependent on a few factors such as placement and the use of an enclosure.
Placing You Subwoofer
Placing your subwoofer is arguably the hardest and most important aspect of the subwoofer. It’s generally said that the placement can result in a significant difference in the bass output.
Boundary loading your subwoofer is one of the best ways to get the most out of your subwoofer. This is because it causes low-frequency waves to be amplified. You’re probably wondering what exactly is boundary loading.
Well, the act of placing the subwoofer in a corner is enough to amplify the subwoofer, this is because you have three boundaries interacting with the subwoofer to amplify the effect.
Secondly, you can utilize the subwoofer crawl method, which involves playing a soundtrack composed of a lot of basses, and constantly moving the subwoofer till you find the most optimal spot in your room. This is useful if you cannot boundary load the subwoofer.
Placing The Subwoofer In An Enclosure
An obvious tip is to ensure that your subwoofer is seated in an enclosure, this is where most of the bass effect will come from. What this does is ensure that sound does not leak which effectively increases the output of the subwoofer.
There are two types of enclosures you can use for your subwoofer, and they both have varying effects. The two types of enclosures are ported or sealed boxes.
A ported box is a popular choice, it involves having a large open port, which will allow sound waves to escape easier which will create more bass. A sealed box is quite different, it focuses more on accuracy rather than output, and it’s ideal for smaller spaces.
Good Bass Management
This is what I touched on a bit above, but bass management is the act of separating lower frequencies from the main audio signal, this means you can send clean bass signals to the subwoofer.
A good way to do this is to set up a good crossover frequency, this means your subwoofer will only activate once it detects a specific frequency. For example, you can configure your subwoofer to activate when it detects frequencies around 150 Hz.
In conclusion, I can’t say for sure whether a subwoofer is required for a home theater because this greatly depends on your situation. But what I can tell you is that a subwoofer will greatly improve the listening experience in most scenarios.
Your home theater’s standard speakers lack the capacity to produce low-level frequencies to a high standard, so this is why you require a subwoofer.